Extended review of the Ubuntu Dust theme
(New readers: don’t forget to check out this updated review of Dust)
Last week I wrote a slightly scathing mini-review of Dust, a new Ubuntu theme which has gathered quite a following keen to see it included in November’s Intrepid Ibex release. After the review attracted some vehement disagreement, I decided in the interest of fairness to give the theme a solid test run. The conditions I set myself were simple: if, with the same amount of tweaking and customisation I would put into my own desktop, I could get Dust looking good on a test desktop, I would humbly eat my words. Here’s the setup I came up with.
Wallpaper: It obviously had to be something orange-red, or at least dark brown. I played around typing ‘africa’ and ‘desert’ into Flickr, but all the photos were either too dark or too monochromatic to contrast sufficiently with the dull Dust panels. Eventually I settled on this great shot which seems almost custom-made for Dust. I especially like all the limpid, crystalline elements: the metal sign, the railway tracks, the glassy blue sky. High praise and credit to the photographer.
Icons: This was a tricky choice and I’m not very happy with the outcome. The icon set is Docang via this Flickr user’s own Dust desktop. I’m probably just in a picky mood, but the shutdown icon from this set really bugged me and I tried several times to change it before giving up out of frustration. The desert icon set was a close runner up and I wouldn’t mind using it in a future desktop.
Transparency: This was another tricky decision, which comes back to Dust’s fatal flaw: it’s so dark. I love dark, but pulling off the combination of dark and usable is a tricky feat and Dust just doesn’t hold up. The gnome panel labels were very hard to read at full opacity, but I had to tone them down a little to avoid the desktop becoming “midwestern railway crossing, as seen from inside of postbox”. I ended up on 92% opacity. I thought that my difficulty in reading the panel menu text might be a result of my monitor settings, the wallpaper itself, or even my system font, but any attempts to tweak it better just made things worse. I decided not to apply any transparency to nautilus windows. Ubuntu’s default ‘glassy titlebar’ on unfocused windows actually looked quite good with Dust. Nautilus is definitely one of Dust’s strengths, although the grey statusbar with dark window resizing handle is a jarring combination.
Panels: Given the overall squintiness of Dust (more on that later), it seemed like a bad idea to contract the desktop down to my normal single-panel configuration.
Fonts: I would greatly appreciated it if somebody could show me how to improve upon Ubuntu’s default fonts. My efforts are consistently dreadful. The default fonts are bearable with most themes, but looked quite out of place with Dust. I couldn’t seem to emulate the look of the fonts in the author’s screenshots either, which are quite good.
The verdict: I appreciate that Dust is a work in progress. However, I stand by my original review: it really isn’t that impressive. Dust could best be described as squinty. You are forced to squint to read any text on the panels; squint to see if your mouse is lined up over the emaciated maximise\minimise\close buttons and to click them; and the overall dark-on-dark colour scheme seems to suck light away from the rest of your desktop. Intrepid Ibex can do better.